“Strategies in Countering Violent Extremism” was the first webinar jointly organised by Saudi Arabia’s Naif Arab University for Security Sciences (NAUSS) and RSIS’ International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) on 8 March 2022.
Cast against the backdrop of unceasing and active dissemination of online radical propaganda by extremists and terrorist groups that continue to play an increasingly important role in the radicalisation and recruitment of violent extremist groups, the webinar aimed to share relevant research and initiatives on countering online extremism, which has become a key plank in the Prevention/Countering of Violent Extremism (P/CVE) strategy adopted by many governments.
The webinar featured experts from both institutions: Dr Mohamed Feisal Hassan, an ICPVTR Research Fellow; and Dr Fadhel Abdelaziz Blibech, a professor at the College of Criminal Justice, NAUSS. Both speakers highlighted the vital role played by P/CVE practitioners and researchers to counter pervasive extremist narratives and recruitment activities on the Internet.
Dr Feisal gave an overview on the importance of ground-up community efforts, including the role of religious clerics as part of a critical counter-ideological strategy and approach to prevent radicalisation and rehabilitate extremists and terrorists. Taking the Singaporean approach to P/CVE as an example, he described the work of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a voluntary organisation made up of Islamic clerics, who responded creatively to the challenges imposed on its counselling and rehabilitation programmes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stressing that P/CVE was a continuous learning journey, he shared the RRG’s efforts to keep abreast of constantly evolving violent extremism threats. Dr Feisal iterated the importance of the “winning hearts and minds” approach, particularly in engaging the virtual community within the landscape of present realities.
Dr Fadhel touched on the recruitment by extremist armed groups through social media. He highlighted how these new channels were becoming effective echo chambers for terrorist recruitment, particularly among youth and women. Dr Fadhel provided an overview of mechanisms to prevent vulnerable groups from being influenced by extremist propaganda, such as continual public awareness and education against extremist threats. He also emphasised the need for practitioners to upskill in areas such as software science to apply algorithms and artificial intelligence techniques in negating extremist content.
Both experts agreed that countering violent extremism efforts required comprehensive cooperation at the whole of government and society levels. Dr Feisal emphasised that multi-stakeholder agencies must work together in countering violent extremism. At the same time, Dr Fadhel called on governments, corporate and social media companies to work closely in monitoring terrorist threats online.